New Song: Highway to Hell for Guitar, Bass, and Singing

Posted on June 20, 2019

Let’s learn to play this iconic rock song! This song is a textbook example of the power of syncopation (playing on the off-beats), which gives a strong sense of tension and momentum. The strong beats in songs are usually 1, 2, 3, 4 – those are the ones you tap your foot to. In the verse section, you’ll notice the riff plays mostly between those beats and avoids playing on beat 1 almost entirely. Then, in the chorus, the tension is resolved as it comes in strong on beat 1, with “High-way…”. When songs masterfully combine syncopated and straight rhythms like this, you feel a perfect balance between momentum and stability, like a great story. “Highway to Hell”, made famous by AC/DC, is now available in Yousician for Guitar, Bass, and Singing.

Highway to Hell for Guitar
by: James Neilson, Music Education Designer for Guitar

In the main riff exercise (level 4) you’ll play a simplified version of the original rhythm guitar part, using basic power chords (E5, A5, D5), and single notes. The main challenge is to nail the timing, as there are lots of fairly quick notes played on off-beats. Listen carefully to get it into your ears – you can even try singing along with the riff to make sure you really know the timing.

In the full rhythm exercise (level 6) you’ll play the original rhythm guitar part, with a combination of big power chords (A5, G5), and fancy chord shapes (D/F#). The main trick here is to nail the feel: it should be bold and punchy, with an unstoppable rock-solid groove. This is much harder than it seems – there’s a reason why Malcolm Young is so revered as a rhythm guitarist, and why he’s so difficult to emulate!

In the full rhythm & lead exercise (level 8) you’ll play Angus Young’s guitar parts, combining classic riffs and soloing. The solo itself is a treasure-trove of blues-rock licks that are perfect to memorize and add to your arsenal. It combines A minor pentatonic and A major pentatonic ideas – this is a great way to balance light and shade, and is very common in a blues-rock setting.

Highway to Hell for Bass
by: Vellu Halkosalmi, Music Education Designer for Bass and Ukulele

From the bass-point of view, this one is a simple song (as AC/DC songs in general are), and also has the bass resting through the verses, so the first impression might be that it is not that interesting to play. Don’t be fooled, though. Simplicity rarely means it’s easy to do, and the less you play the more emphasis each note gets. Having the bass not play anything in a song will create a lot of anticipation. When the bass starts to play, it creates a powerful momentum.

The basic bassline exercise (level 2) includes a stripped down version of the bassline which has only the important notes of the recorded bassline. Keep your focus on the rhythm: the “punch” in all music comes from solid timing. Remember to keep your fretting hand in the same position and use your index finger to play notes on the 2nd fret, and middle finger to play notes on the 3rd fret.

In the full bassline exercise (level 4) you will play all the notes in the recorded bassline. Solid timing and full sound are your two main things to focus on, but also keep an eye on the note durations during the chorus. You will find two note lengths that have a powerful effect on the feel. There are some open A string notes that should be half a beat long, and in contrast, the G and F# on the D string should be a full beat long notes, connecting with the next note.

Highway to Hell for Singing
by: Sonja Patrikainen, Music Education Designer for Singing

This song is great for practicing a rock groove. The singer uses a laid back groove, meaning that he’s often singing a bit late compared to the drummer. This creates a really powerful drive to the vocals! Try imitating the rhythm of the singer phrase by phrase. See how closely you can match it!

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